ZIMBABWE’S two newly-registered commercial radio stations, StarFM and ZiFM, yesterday staged a spirited defence of their controversial licencing, saying they were committed to offering a platform for citizens in their cultural and political diversity to express themselves freely.
Independent Dialogue: Brian Chitemba
StarFM is owned by state-controlled Zimpapers, while ZiFM is run by journalist-cum-businessman Supa Mandiwanzira who is linked to Zanu PF.
Contributing to the Independent Dialogue Series on the topic Deregulation of the Airwaves in Zimbabwe: Reality or Fiction organised by the Zimbabwe Independent in Harare yesterday, the two station bosses defended the licences they were controversially awarded saying they got them purely on merit.
The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe’s awarding of licences to the stations sparked widespread criticism with losing bidders, among others, questioning the government’s sincerity in opening up media space to genuine private players.
Mandiwanzira passionately defended his station arguing he secured the licence on merit and not political considerations, adding ZiFM was a commercial radio station wholly owned by his family trust. He said it was not aligned to any political party.
He also said ZiFM focused more on “infotainment” and meeting the demands of advertisers and its listeners instead of propping up any political party.
Mandiwanzira argued democratic space in Zimbabwe had increased with the licensing of his station and Star FM because people now had other platforms to air their views.
“We applied for a radio licence as AB Communications and we got the licence after going through the processes,” said Mandiwanzira. “We didn’t get the licence because we belong to any political party.”
He said the country’s democracy was flourishing although it could not be compared to that of the United States and Britain given varying historical circumstances.
StarFM general manager Admire Taderera said the electronic media has experienced far-reaching changes in 2012 with the coming in of two radio stations, showing significant strides were being made towards deregulating the airwaves.
He also defended his station arguing it had interviewed over 60 politicians of different political persuasions who freely aired their views.
“The launch of StarFM on June 25 2012 is a step towards plurality because we are engaging every Zimbabwean regardless of political affiliation,” said Taderera.
“Over the past 32 years if one was passionate about broadcasting it was all about ZBC, StarFM has changed the terrain of media plurality.”
In contrast, Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe executive director Takura Zhangazha said the licensing of ZiFM and StarFM was a tentative beginning towards the liberalisation of the airwaves because expectations were that more commercial and community stations would be licensed.
“It’s progressive that the two radio stations exist, but are they a genuine departure from ZBC or are they following the same line?” he asked.
Zhangazha said the radio stations should focus more on balanced and ethical reporting of news stories rather than playing more music.'